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10 HOUSTON ROCKETS
Jack McCallum
October 29, 2001
Life without Hakeem begins with an outstanding duo manning the backcourt but a void to fill at the pivot
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October 29, 2001

10 Houston Rockets

Life without Hakeem begins with an outstanding duo manning the backcourt but a void to fill at the pivot

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projected lineup

2001-01 record: 45-37 (fifth in Midwest)

Coach: Rudy Tomjanvoich (11th season with Rockets)

STARTERS

PVR*

2000-01 KEY STATS

SF

Glen Rice#

100

12.0 ppg

4.1 rpg

1.2 apg

44.0 FG%

38.9 3FG%

PF

Kenny Thomas

189

7.1 ppg

5.6 rpg

0.58 bpg

0.54 spg

44.3 FG%

C

Kelvin Cato

125

4.7 ppg

4.0 rpg

0.89 bpg

57.7 FG%

64.9 FT%

SG

Cuttino Mobley

49

19.5 ppg

2.5 apg

5.0 rpg

1.06 spg

43.4 FG%

PG

Steve Francis

23

19.9 ppg

6.5 apg

6.9 rpg

45.1 FG%

39.6 3FT%

BENCH

PVR*

2000-01 KEY STATS

F

Eddie Griffin (R)#

154

17.8 ppg

10.8 rpg

4.43 bpg

42.9 FG%

32.0 3FG%

G

Moochie Norris

210

6.6 ppg

3.5 apg

2.4 rpg

0.84 spg

44.6 FG%

F

Walt Williams

241

8.3 ppg

3.4 rpg

1.3 apg

39.4 FG%

39.5 3FG%

C

Jason Collier

253

3.1 ppg

1.60 rpg

0.3 apg

38.0 FG%

70.8 FT%

F

Terence Morris (R)#

287

12.2 ppg

7.7 rpg

1.9 apg

2.19 bpg

43.2 FG%

#New acquisition

(R) Rookie (statistics for final college season)

*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 117)

Cuttino Mobley has it made. His reputation as a slashing all-purpose guard is growing; his outgoing personality has made him one of the most popular athletes in Houston; he gets along great with his best buddy, Steve Francis, who happens to be the Rockets' star; and his personal launderer and cook, Jackie Mobley, lives only a short walk from his house. "I go over to Mom's place sometimes to eat, and she cooks a lot for Steve, too," says Mobley, known as Cat to his teammates, "but she always comes to my place to do the laundry." He shakes his head and smiles. "Man, it's great."

Man, how much greater it would be if the Rockets had some players to take care of their inside game as well as Moms takes care of Cat and his pal. As the P.H. (Post-Hakeem) era begins in Houston, the Rockets find themselves hog-tied, trapped in the middle of a strong Western Conference without an obvious answer to their pivot problems. They finished two games out of a playoff spot last season and would seem hard-pressed to improve upon that this season, considering that, barring a deal, future Hall of Famer Olajuwon will be replaced by the firm of Cato and Collier. (That's Kelvin Cato and Jason Collier if you're scoring at home.) So unpleasant is that prospect that coach Rudy Tomjanovich is even talking about filling the middle from time to time with frail 19-year-old rookie Eddie Griffin, eight months removed from his single college season, at Seton Hall. "We're kind of on trial with our centers" is the way Francis puts it.

The verdict is in on the backcourt, though. Francis and Mobley just might be the finest combo in the West (unless that title belongs to Kobe Bryant and whoever else is in the Lakers' backcourt with him). "Sometimes having a player whose game is like yours can be a problem," says Mobley. "You take Allen Iverson and Larry Hughes—they kind of bumped heads in Philadelphia. But Steve and I talked about it beforehand, got it all out. I told him, 'I'm here for you, whatever you want me to do to make it easy for you.' It's Steve's team. What I want to be is a Scottie Pippen, there to pick up whatever he can't get done."

Francis said the chemistry between the two was there almost immediately after Mobley was installed as a starter midway through last season. "We just understand things the same way," says Francis. "We both got groomed by Hakeem and Charles [Barkley]. That means we learned how to go inside first, then back outside; learned how to get our points within the framework of a set offense." Won't that be different without an established low-post scorer? "No matter what kind of guard you are," says Francis, "you've got to have some kind of low-post presence in there. We'll find it."

One player Mobley and Francis will find inside is improving post-up power forward Kenny Thomas; one player they'll find outside is Glen Rice, acquired in an off-season trade with the Knicks. Rice will be on the wing, as he has been for five teams over 13 seasons, waiting to release that sweet jumper. "We're thinking penetration and kick-out," says Mobley. "It'll be a different sight with Glen's waiting to launch that thing." Mobley smiles. "Still, we don't want to be kicking out all the time." Rice, for his part, says he can't believe the quickness of Francis and Mobley. "Damn, they're good," says Rice. "By the time this season is over, I'm going to have run out of 'damns.' "

But, damn, what about that center problem? It would have been partly solved had the Warriors not matched Houston's offer sheet to free agent Marc Jackson. The Rockets hope that Cato, to whom they gave a six-year, $42 million deal two seasons ago, will at last develop an offensive game and more consistently display his shot-blocking prowess. The quiet hope, too, is that Griffin develops quickly, particularly since Maurice Taylor will probably miss the entire season after having surgery on his right Achilles tendon in September. If Griffin does emerge, don't count on hearing about it from him. "He hasn't said a word since he got here," says Francis. Griffin waves that off. "I don't have to do much talking with Steve and Cat around," says Griffin. True, this backcourt doesn't need any help with the quotes. They'll even handle a lot of the scoring and pressure defense. Yet if the Rockets are going to get to the playoffs, they're going to need serious contributions from someone other than Moms Mobley.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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